Monday, April 30, 2007

Some old photos plus an update on travelling

Here's a few photos that I managed to upload. First of all, the mountain alongside the Coylet and you can see a clear line through the trees which is the forestry road that I used to walk on. And here's just some photos of the loch reflecting that I took the other day when it was nice and sunny.

Anyway, back to what I'm up to now. I managed to sleep a bit in the airport last night but was still quite tired this morning on my flight. When I got to Beauvais airport the simplest thing to do seemed to me to go into Paris and find out information about where I wanted to go, Normandy, from there, as more than likely any trains would connect through Paris anyway. Now, I'm really tired and frustrated as I write this (and that's with having had a nap), so it may be complaining.
Finding information proved more difficult than I ever imagined. I recalled a main tourist office that was quite helpful being on Avenue des Champs-Elysees, and my Lonely Planet guide claimed it was there as well, but it must have just disappeared. So after spending an hour or two dragging myself along to find that and not finding it, I got on the metro to find the only other tourist office I knew of, near the Louvre. Bear in mind that I was looking at every tourist map of Paris that was posted on the street and although they showed me where museums and monuments were, none indicated tourist offices.
So I got to the tourist office to find that it contained about 10 different pamphlets about Paris and when I enquired about getting information on other parts of France the woman at the desk basically laughed at me. She gave me a number that she said might help, but she couldn't even tell me if there were other tourist offices in the city that catered to other regions. Now at one point I walked by Italy's national tourist office so I don't see why France couldn't have one. Anyway, I grabbed a booklet on accomodation and a map of the city.
I think the Paris authorities want you to tell them years in advance before you come here. For example, in my map of the city, under the heading of "internet cafes", I was directed to a website where I could find a list. All well and good if I had gotten this pamphlet before I came over here, while I still knew where I could use a computer.
Then, in the hostels section of my accomodation guide, I was informed that all reservations were to be made in writing, as well as any cancellations. Again, kind of hard for me to do that now that I'm in the city.
Also, I wonder why the tourist officials and transportation officials seems to be annoyed when you ask them to provide you with information, when they are sitting under a sign that says they will give you information. Sort of the wrong career choice if that's not your thing.
So I went to the appropriate train station to see if I could just get to Normandy myself and maybe find out accomodation info as well. Well, the lines were horrendous and the prospect of arriving in a small town well into the evening without a room seemed too much for me in my tired state. I hopped on the metro again to go to a hostel, choosing it solely because it was easy to get to by metro, checked in, and slept.
After getting up and showering I decided that I'm getting out of this country at the moment, so I went and hunted up and overnight train to Barcelona. I'm hoping to get to Bilbao once there, but will see how things go. So I'm spending tomorrow here until around 9:30pm.
On a lighter note: motor scooters scare me, because people drive them on the sidewalks here and even use crosswalks with them, then switch to the streets when it suits them. There's a lot of them and they just like to cut through people. They're not as bad as I remember in Rome though.
Secondly, it now seems strange for vehicles to be driving on the right side of the road again, and to be on a bus that goes through a roundabout anti-clockwise. Incidentally, the French seem to be as fond of roundabouts on their highways as the British. And then there's the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe, where about 20 roads converge into one.
That's my complaining done, hopefully Spain goes better.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Glasgow photos

Glasgow's filled with grand old buildings (largely Georgian architecture, if you know what that means) that have modern shops in the ground floors. This one is a home decorating shop if I recall correctly. When walking down the streets, it's easy to not notice the buildings themselves because at street level they consist of the usual plate-glass windows displaying clothing and shoes and the like.

The interior of the Kelvingrove Museum. This picture does not properly convey the sheer size of the place. That's a pipe organ in the back that is played daily.

Friday, April 27, 2007

In Glasgow about to set off...

So my time at the Coylet has come to an end and I headed for Glasgow Friday evening, driven to the ferry courtesy of Fraser before getting the train on the other side. I left some things that I don't want to travel with over the summer (like winter clothes) in a small backpack there, so I'll be back not only for a visit but to collect my things.

Well, I'm killing time in Glasgow today before I had to Preswick airport (south west of the city by a fair bit) at 11pm. That's the last train I can catch if I'm going to be there in time for my 6am flight to France. The things one does for a plane ticket that costs under £20.

In anticipation of travelling abroad, I have changed my phone number to a network that will work outside the UK, namely Vodafone, and will be using that now as my permanent number. If for some reason you need that number, let me know by comment or e-mail. I won't be using my phone for other than emergencies abroad because roaming is expensive, although I can probably get away with the occasional text, but no one that I know outside of people I've met abroad uses texting anyway.

There's an election coming up in Scotland next week, for the devolved Scottish parliment at Holyrood. Julie showed me her postal ballot instructions when she received them, and it's a complicated voting procedure. Because they have proportional representation for Scottish parliment, there's two votes - one for the constituency representative, and then one for so many regional seats that are given out according to proportion of vote received. There's also a list of something like 20 parties running for those seats, some of whom seem to be a party of one, and some with very specific agendas: the indoor smoking party (Scotland passed a law last year prohibiting smoking in public places that are more than 50% closed on their perimeters. Basically, you can't smoke in anything approximating indoors unless it's your own home. Even separately-ventillated smoking rooms are not permitted.), the UK-independence party (the lets-get-out-of-the-EU and keep all the foreign workers like the Polish from coming in, as far as I understand their policies). There's several socialist-to-communist parties, many of whom were out loudly spreading their messages on the streets of central Glasgow yesterday. There's also several Christian parties involving titles like "Proclaiming Christ's Lordship".

The main race is coming down to the Scottish National Party (SNP), the pro-independence party, and Labour, the current ruling party. It seems that SNP may do quite well not because of support for independence but because people are sick of Labour. It's looking like a minority government for SNP though, so they'll need to form a coalition, probably with the Liberal Democrats as the Conservatives won't really comply.

I went to the Post Office yesterday in an attempt to find a postcode for a community, and discovered that since they have computerized their directory they cannot find a post code unless I have the full street address. If I had that I don't think I would need the post code. I was hoping to find a directory like Canada Post has, where you look up the community and it tells you that the post code on this side of such-and-such a street is this for so many numbers, etc. Then I could probably have figured out an approximate one.

Then I bought some Euros as the Post Office doesn't charge commission. I was then offered travel insurance by the teller, and then subsequently informed that they also offer home and auto insurance, which I declined saying that I didn't have those things to insure. I thought Canada Post had really branched out when they started selling teddy bears and Harry Potter collectible coins, but Royal Mail has got them beat. They seem to offer a lot of other services as well, although they never have more than two teller windows open even when the building is equipped for 10.

An interesting thought (perhaps): Royal Mail has postmen (posties) to deliver the post; Canada Post has mailmen (no nickname!) to deliver the mail.

I've been hiking around the city a fair bit here since I haven't figured out the bus system and the subway hasn't been of much use because it's a big circle that misses most of the locations I've been trying to go to, so walking to the stations and back would save little time. I took the subway on a previous visit to go to the Kelvingrove Museum and the Museum of Transport (both great museums and free!). I was shocked to find how small the carriages are - and I mean in height. I practically had to duck to get through the door. Inside the upholstry is that of a 1970's living room, I believe, which reminded me much of the LRT in Edmonton. I'm not sure if the decorators thought that those patterns in harvest gold and autumn orange or whatever were esthetically pleasing or if they just figured that the pattern would conceal filth quite well.

Back to time at the Coylet: I got to go out in one of the boats that the hotel hires last week, namely the powan, named for a fish in the loch (the other is our non-motor boat called the char). The trip commenced with Chris driving and Julie and I sitting about admiring the view and the rain. Then when Chris tired of driving he convinced me to do it, which was easy enough although hard on the left arm after awhile because you have to hold it almost behind your back to keep the throttle down. We cut the engine as we approached some swans and Chris and Julie rowed us in, as shown below:

Then I started the engine up again with instructions from Chris, and we motored around some more over to some sheep on the shore, and then back to the hotel. The rain had stopped after the first few minutes, at least for awhile, so I got some photos.

Here is the Coylet Inn and the mountain that it sits in front of. It never seemed so big when I was just living below it; the Coylet looks so small by comparison. I climbed the bit toward the right of the photo, where there's no trees to the right of the bright green bits.

This photo I actually took when I walked part way up the hill on the other side of the loch; here you see the caravan park on the left and the Coylet to it's immediate right.

I have more photos but will get them off my camera when facilities permit.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Driving lesson and the old Coylet

I forgot to mention in my last post something rather exciting (to me at least) that I did recently: I got a lesson on how to drive a manual transmission car!

Pretty much every car in the UK, and in Europe as far as I know, is a manual, or standard as we call them in Canada, so I haven't been able to drive anything. I've been asking people I work with to teach me ever since I've been here, but of course it's tricky because I don't have my insurance and over here you're not covered insurance-wise just to drive someone else's car on a one-time basis. But a week ago Thursday, Fraser took me down to a forestry road that's at Ardentinny beach and we drove around in circles on the gravel road. My biggest problem was not letting the clutch off slow enough when I was starting from a dead stop, but I managed alright and even though the car had a loose gearbox and I would sometimes end up in fourth instead of second gear, I could definitely hear something was wrong and correct myself. So now I feel I could rent a car and then with practice driving I'd be quite fine. I haven't driven on the road, so there'd be that driving on the left-hand side to get used to (it was weird enough sitting on the right-hand side of the car) but I'm sure that difference can be over come as well.

And now for something different.

There's some old photos of the Coylet hanging on the walls here that date from late 1800's I'd guess from the clothing and modes of transportation. I've taken photos of them with my camera, so of course the images aren't great, but I thought it would be neat to try to show them at least. I find it interesting firstly that there's no trees on the hills, and also that the place basically looks the same as it does now.

The road used to end at the Coylet and to go farther north you either had to go around a coastal road or take a ferry up Loch Eck to where there was a road. I don't know if this picture is of the ferry, or of ships that used to just sail up the loch from the river to the south (they used to do tours on the loch as well), but whatever this pier was roughly opposite the hotel, as I recognize the shape of the mountains in the background (again with no trees on them).

It's hard to see it here, but those wagons have about 20 to 30 people each loaded on them. Travelling in comfort.

It rarely occurs to me just how old the Coylet Inn is - it's late 17th century from what I know, which means that it's 300 to 350 years old. When the inn was built, the ancestors of most Canadians were not in Canada - in my case they were in Scotland, Ireland, and England, with the bulk of them not even speaking English at the time and probably not yet converted from Catholicism to Protestantism.

The thing is, I've spent six months living and working in a building that's older than anything in PEI, but it doesn't feel old. Sure the staircase is small and quite steep, and the roof slopes in quite a bit in the upstairs, but the place doesn't remind me every day just how old it is. I'm not really sure what it would take for me to feel that it's old.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The post with no name

To be unoriginal, time is flying by. Karen made up our rota (work schedule) for the next upcoming two weeks a few days ago and I now have 4 days of work left at the old Coylet. I'll probably be leaving here on April 27 and travelling to Glasgow. I'll spend the weekend in the city, doing some touristy things (I really like Glasgow as far as cities go) and preparing to head off on my trip. I've got a plane ticket booked to fly to Beauvais, an airport north of Paris, on April 30, and then on May 1 I can start using my train pass and I'll be heading at first for Normandy.

I think I mentioned going to see a ceilidh last time I wrote. Well, that didn't pan out because by the time we got down to the ceilidh, at 11:30pm, we were told it was over. Having been told that they often ran well into the early hours of the morning that was somewhat of a disappointment, but we quickly formulated a plan B. The previously mentioned Jez of the kayak drove us to Sandbank (where the American naval base used to be) to a pub called the Oakbank where live music was on of the rock and roll format as opposed to Celtic. The "we" being Julie, Pickle, Matt, and I, to be later joined by Fraser, and of course Jez our driver. The only other times I have been in the Oakbank were with the staff boys to play pool and that was on weeknights. It's the kind of pub that has a very local, frequent clientele, and on one night I had been there before several people had brought their large dogs with them, and the dogs proceded to wrestle all over the pub, knocking into chairs and table occasionally. I thought that was brillant. Anyway, I have digressed. The band at the Oakbank, regulars called Electric Soup, proved to be entertaining so the evening was not lost.

The rain has returned here, although there's also been some sunny days as well. Yesterday I walked to the other side of the loch, and part way up the mountain to get a view of my home for the last six months. The hotel looks very tiny when seen against the backdrop of the mountain behind it.

Today I was planning to go to Inverary to see the castle that has been closed for the season during much of my stay here. Alas, the one bus I needed to catch was 10 minutes early and so I saw it go by as I was sitting inside finishing my tea and toast. So I've had a rather uneventful day off, but in an hour Julie and I are heading into Dunoon to go see a fiddle concert.

Work has quieted down after the Easter holidays, but we did have a wedding last Saturday that was quite fun to work. It was actually a "civil union" as I believe they're termed - two women who have a holiday caravan in the same park that I'm living in. The two ladies, and their assorted guests were all great people who were a pleasure to serve, and to top it off since we had been closed for food all day we all pretty much got off work at 8pm once the cleaning up was done, except for poor Karen who had to mind the bar.

Have to head off soon, so will leave more for later. There will definitely be some updates before I go to Europe.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Whirlwind of Activity

I've been up to lots of fun stuff lately. Last I wrote the weather was cold - well, it's warmed up some and been quite sunny during the days so that it's been almost hot. It cools down overnight but the daytime has been fabulous. This has made for excellent opportunities for outdoor activities.

Also, since schools are on Easter Holidays here now (two weeks), business has been picking up and that meant new staff. We've got a "new" second chef - Chris, from Kirn (near Dunoon) who worked here before but then left and has just come back from British Columbia. Then we got Julie from Edinburgh about two weeks ago, and she's living in the caravan with me and Margaret who arrived from Poland a few days ago. We've been going on hikes together when we have the time, and having bonfires on the loch shore a few nights and gone out into the wild nightlife of Dunoon a few times (it's wild in an anti-social behaviour sort-of-way). I've gotten out on the loch in a kayak that a regular customer, Jez, has loaned us (very kind of him) and that was great. I also took a very brief swim in the loch because I figured I should at least get in the water once before I left here. It lasted about 20 seconds because the water is very cold (like glacial). And then there's plans for going to a ceilidh at Uig Hall down the road tomorrow night, and it's pronounced "wig", not "you-ig" as we say it in PEI.

Scotland's like any other place in the world that has a winter, in that it feels very different once the winter starts to end. It's a whole other atmosphere when the sun is out, and it's not raining. Of course there will be rain again at some point. And I'll be packing my bags in a few weeks time, as my Eurail train pass that I won commences on the first of May, so I'll be off to the continent. I'm going to miss the place, but the hope is that I'll have fun elsewhere (I'm sounding all sentimental now ;) ).